How to Recognize the Signs of an Abusive Relationship

Updated February 27, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Dawn Brown

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence, which could potentially be triggering.

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Most of us believe we know the signs of an abusive relationship, but the truth is, many of us mistake these signs for love. It is easy to miss the early signs; an abusive partner rarely enters a relationship to abuse. The early signs can be found in your potential lover's personality and behavior or your personality and behavior before a serious relationship develops.

Sometimes a relationship is toxic for both people; it is even harder recognizing the signs of an abusive relationship when you and your partner are guilty. The trick to staying out of or leaving an abusive situation is understanding a healthy, happy relationship. Recognizing the signs of an abusive relationship requires honesty about the relationship and how you and your partner treat each other.

The Most Common Signs Of An Abusive Relationship

Recognizing the signs of an abusive relationship can be difficult when you are in love. In the early stages of a relationship, it is easy to overlook transgression and play them down because you are still getting to know each other. The problem is, overlooking abusive behavior leads to bigger problems down the road. If you think your relationship may be abusive, or if you fear your partner in any way, your relationship is not healthy. Here are the most common signs of an abusive relationship:

  • Fear of your partner
  • Your partner puts you down
  • Excessive jealousy
  • Humiliation and intimidation
  • Threats of violence
  • Blame you for their behavior
  • Emotional manipulation
  • Break your property
  • Threaten to hurt themselves if you leave
  • Ignore your accomplishments
  • Make you feel bad for spending time with family
  • Make you feel bad for spending time with friends
  • It makes you feel uncomfortable during sex
  • Threatens to leave you if you don't comply with demands
  • Belittles you if you don't comply with requests or demands
  • Judgmental and controlling

Another hint that something is not right is a partner who gets serious too quickly. Most abusers want to gain control as quickly as possible before they notice any signs of abusive behavior. Pushing you into getting serious before you are ready is the first sign of things to come. Manipulation of any kind should be regarded as a warning sign of an abusive individual.

Falling in love is different for everyone; most of the time, one person falls before the other, which is perfectly normal. If you are happy with the relationship but want to move slowly or are not in love yet, your partner should respect that and give you the time you need. Pushing you to fall in love with threats of losing them is a sure sign of manipulation and disrespect.

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Jealousy Is Not Love

The most commonly overlooked sign of an abusive relationship is jealousy. Jealous behavior is not healthy; it can be very destructive to a relationship. When you love someone, it can be difficult to recognize the abusive nature of jealousy; after all, when someone loves you, they don't want someone else moving in on their love, right? Wrong, when someone loves you, they should trust you; love and trust are necessary for a healthy relationship.

Jealousy is all about self, selfishness, defensiveness, insecurity, and the anger jealousy triggers are all centered on self. Jealousy is an emotion and behavior that surfaces because individuals do not trust their partner; it is not finding out the partner is cheating. Jealous behavior is manipulating and possessive; it is never nurturing or loving.

The emotion of jealousy is a defense against being hurt; we have all felt jealous before. When someone we care about focuses their attention on someone else, the emotion of jealousy taunts us with the fear of losing their love. The emotion of jealousy is something everyone experiences, but jealous behavior is not something everyone engages in.

Think of it this way; anger is an emotion everyone experiences, but behavior such as hitting someone is not how most people work through their anger. Emotions can be difficult, but they should be used to understand ourselves, learn, and grow. Children act out when they experience difficult emotions because they have not learned how to deal with them yet.

Jealous behavior is destructive to love; it crushes freedom and chips away at self-esteem. Accusations, assumptions, and over-the-top reactions are used to manipulate and control. Controlling situations and others is the way a jealous person calms their fears and insecurities. Jealousy is a major sign of an abusive relationship, and if someone tells you they are jealous because they love you, it is time to move on.

If you engage in jealous behaviors, it is time for some therapy. Your relationship is not a title of ownership or a license to control others to ease your fear or anxiety. You may not believe you are abusive, but when you make your partner feel responsible for your jealous behavior, it is abusive. Your lover should never change themselves to make you feel secure; you must learn to feel secure on your own and learn to love yourself.

Fighting is Healthy…Right?

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No, fighting is not healthy; communication is healthy, it is impossible to communicate during a fight. Fights occur due to loss of control; without control, communication is ineffective. Communication requires speaking and listening; fighting requires anger and aggression. After a fight, making up after a fight may make it seem worthwhile; making up involves speaking and listening, but this could have taken place without the "fight" part.

Arguing is healthy; it is impossible to see eye to eye, but fighting is more than arguing; fighting is aggressive and hurtful; love should never be aggressive and hurtful. An argument takes place for many reasons, and it is an argument because both people think they are right. Fights may have the same triggers as an argument, but the behavior is not the same.

Fights are a warning sign of an abusive relationship because a fight is not a disagreement; it is a loss of control. Couples counseling can help a relationship by giving both parties advice and guidance, but it is only helpful if both are willing. If you and your partner fight, it is worth getting some counseling; if you are the only one who is willing to get some help, it is time to move on.

It's All My Fault

Abuse in a relationship can be emotional, verbal, and physical. One of the reasons it can be difficult to identify the signs of an abusive relationship is because you feel responsible for the abuser's behavior. The abuser always blames the one they are abusing; it is one of the easiest ways to ease their guilt and maintain control over their partner. This type of abuse is emotional and mental, and it can be just as damaging as a punch or kick.

Signs of emotional or mental abuse:

  • Fear of saying something that will trigger anger in your partner
  • Avoiding family and friends because you feel ashamed
  • Feel that you can never do anything right
  • Feel responsible for triggering anger in your partner
  • Feel you deserve to be mistreated
  • Make excuses for your partner's aggression toward you

Love should never cause fear, loss of self-esteem, or loss of family and friends. Emotional and mental abuse is an abusive partner's way of maintaining control over you, and although you may feel his/her behavior is your fault, it is not. The goal of this type of abuse makes you feel responsible, less than perfect, and guilty.

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Changes In Your Emotional Well-Being

It is always important to stay in touch with your emotions; how you feel about yourself is one of the best ways to identify the signs of an abusive relationship. Changes in how you feel about yourself can happen slowly; paying attention to your needs and happiness is essential to recognize emotional and mental abuse. If you are feeling/experiencing any of these feelings, your relationship may be crossing the line to an abusive situation:

  • Depression
  • Fearful or Anxious
  • Feelings of shame or embarrassment
  • Loneliness
  • Isolation
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Powerless to make a change
  • Feeling trapped
  • Hopeless

Signs And Personality Traits Of An Abusive Partner

There are many reasons why an individual is abusive toward those they claim to love. Signs and personality traits of an abusive partner include more than jealousy or anger issues. A dysfunctional, neglectful, or otherwise abusive childhood is a major factor in why some people are abusive in relationships, but there are other signs.

Your partner may have all these personality traits or only a few, but any of these personality traits or signs have the potential to lead to abuse:

  • Emotionally explosive or unpredictable - fast and extreme mood swings can go from sweet and loving to angry and aggressive quickly; you never know how they will react in any given situation.
  • Maybe a survivor of past abuse - childhood abuse or witness to domestic violence.
  • Judgmental
  • Critical and controlling
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Socially popular and charmingly manipulative
  • Keeps emotions bottled up until they erupt

Everyone is different, and many people with these traits never abuse others. These traits should be recognized as potential signs of an abusive person. Some personality traits are more apt to become manipulative than others. Recognizing these signs can help you identify problems before they start.


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